'Winning this fellowship was my ultimate goal'

Isabella Paternostro

China and Asia-Pacific studies
Rockville, Md.

Why did you choose Cornell?

I chose Cornell because the China & Asia-Pacific Studies (CAPS) major is unlike any other undergraduate program. Studying CAPS at Cornell gave me the unique opportunity to simultaneously hone my Chinese language skills, specialize in U.S.-China relations and Chinese foreign policy, and explore other topics in international relations. The program's embedded off-campus semesters in Washington, D.C. and Beijing, China were also extremely appealing to me. In short, I wanted to receive the best college education possible so I can stand out in my career and Cornell's CAPS program gave me that.

What is your main extracurricular activity and why is it important to you?

girl in lawn

My main extracurricular activity has been attending and, eventually, teaching Zumba classes with Cornell Fitness Centers. I value teaching Zumba because it provides me a reprieve from academics, gives me an opportunity to interact with staff members and students from other colleges, and improves my confidence! Becoming an instructor gives me the freedom to act as silly or fierce as I want and take risks trying new things. 

What Cornell memory do you treasure the most?

During the fall of my sophomore year before the GOVT 1817 final, which happened to fall on my birthday, my study group decided to book a room, order pizza and review the course material. In reality, we stayed in that room for nine hours, laughing, getting to know each other, eating, and, every so often, reviewing for the class. It was a great bonding experience and we continue to study every week on campus to this day. 

What have you accomplished as a Cornell student that you are most proud of, either inside the classroom or otherwise?

I am most proud of becoming Thomas R. Pickering Graduate Fellow in December. This program will fund my graduate degree program, provide two summer internship opportunities and guarantees my dream job as a U.S. Foreign Service Officer at the State Department. When I started at Cornell, winning this fellowship was my ultimate goal and I am extremely proud that I achieved it. 

If you were to offer advice to an incoming first year student, what would you say?

1) Study, but not too hard.  It is important to study and succeed, but the things you will remember most are spending time with your friends, exploring Ithaca and Cornell's campus, and meeting new people. In five years, you will not remember getting a C on that economics prelim but you will remember attending a chimes concert or attending a guest lecture. 

2) Take some time for yourself. Find activities that do not require as much mental exertion, watch movies and get a good night's sleep.  Your body and mind will thank you later.

Every year, our faculty nominate graduating Arts & Sciences students to be featured as part of our Extraordinary Journeys series. Read more about the Class of 2021.

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Isabella Paternostro